W0D5 The cheese stands alone.

First off, I have to start writing these things earlier in the evening. It is now 9:54. When I first sat down to write, it was 7:54. I really had nothing to write about. I thought about writing about my day, but nothing stood out: I got up, learned some programming stuff, headed downtown, ate a gyro, met one of my teaching teams and talked for 4 hours (we have to bond too, you know), went to the Union Square Farmers’ Market, and came home.

The highlight of the market was the stinky cheese I bought. I’m a big fan of the stinky, washed rind cheeses, which I first learned about at the Wadsworth Mansion Farmer’s Market, which is held in August each year. (YYYESSSSS!! I just checked, and I’ll be home in time for it! August 28th, this year.) Stinky cheeses are not for everyone, I must say. But, as a father and husband whose darling family eats all the regular cheese in the house, these are the way to go. They won’t touch them, so my stash is safe.

I’m talking washed rind cheese, a broad but distinctive category of gloriously stinky curd. The telltale signs include a moist or sticky exterior, some variety of reddish-orange rind, and profound aromas reminiscent of often-unmentionable things (sweaty feet and barnyard animals figure prominently). (link)

My first love is Drunken Hooligan from Cato Corner in Colchester, CT. However, I will buy stinky cheese wherever I can find it, because it is not typically sold in grocery stores. You don’t wrap this stuff in plastic. You can find cheeses like this sometimes at places like Whole Foods. I have yet to check Garden Gourmet Market, but must, since they have, by far, the largest selection of cheeses I’ve seen outside a cheese specialty store.

How I buy stinky cheese:

  1. Locate a cheese vendor at a farmers’ market
  2. Look for the tell tale signs of stinky cheese:
    1. Short lines (except Cato Corner – they always have a line for some reason)
    2. Clear plastic domes over the cheese
    3. No plastic wrap anywhere (waxed or foiled paper only). The cheeses need to breathe. They are alive for heaven’s sake.
    4. Cheese that looks dusty, discolored, weird, gross, and definitely not like something anyone would want to eat.
  3. Ask which is the stinkiest cheese.
  4. When they vendor offers a sample, I decline. I ALWAYS buy without tasting it. Jump in. Both feet. Full throttle.
  5. Buy a quarter pound (usually $6-$8 worth; stinky cheeses are labor intensive to produce)
  6. Eat about a third of it on the way home, especially if I have fruit or tomatoes. If there’s good bread, then it’s a sandwich. Holy cow. My mouth is watering right now.

Today I bought Drumm from Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse (this is so weird – Google just suggested that I replace “and” with “&” as I typed it in. Google: So useful. Big scary.) When I came home, I looked them up on the web, and I think I may start stalking them at Farmer’s Markets (Tomorrow they are at Tucker Square. Wait, what? No, no. I’m not stalking them. Really. Nothing to look at here. Move along. Move along.) I do love their philosophy, though.

We want to raise our children in a world where farming, and indeed all other human activity, is done thoughtfully and sustainably, with long-term well-being taking priority over immediate gain.

It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes. There’s more on their site, of course. Oh, and Drumm cheese?

One of our trademark cheeses, with a flavor that is complex and accessible. This Drumm is semi-soft, with a runny edge and a light texture. Excellent with fruits, pairs well with a variety of wines and ales … It is a medium sized wheel, and has a bit of soft-ripening going on around the edges, which gives it a slightly sunken-in look (and thus the name).

By saying “this Drumm”, they are telling us that the cheese comes out different every time. It depends on the season, the weather during that season, what the cows ate, how the cows are feeling. It’s a living thing – nature versus nurture. Different every time.

As I was saying, I had nothing to write about tonight, so I went for a walk around Jerome Park Reservoir. I got to wondering, is the Park named Jerome, or Jerome named Park? I know now, because I looked it up. However, that turned out to be its own rabbit hole, so I am going to save the story until I have a day where I hit writer’s block. I know it’ll happen, and it’s good to keep a couple of topics in reserve. If I write about it now, I’ll be up all night, and it’s already after 11. I will, however, mention some of the time sensitive things I noticed – things that won’t make sense if I save them until later.

First, mulberries. This is an underappreciated tree if there ever was one. Mulberries are delicious and in season right now. You can find mulberry trees by looking for the purple stains on the sidewalks underneath them, and in the daytime, the flocks of birds in them. Just listen. Didn’t I say that yesterday? Hmmm … maybe there’s a theme there. It’s part of a larger theme: if you are bored, you are not paying attention. There’s a ton of interesting stuff happening. Always. Sadly, most of the trees here are trimmed too high to eat the berries conveniently. I managed to get one anyway.

Second, fireflies. It took them a while to get their act together this year – almost two weeks late in Connecticut by my reckoning. There was a bunch of them in the fields around the reservoir tonight. “Hey baby, baby, baby!” That is what I imagine they are saying as they fly through the air, flashing away. (OK, DO NOT, research fireflies. A quote: “Target males are attracted to what appears to be a suitable mate, and are then eaten.” Only one species, but still.) I researched them to verify my recollection that female fireflies are flightless. I was close: this is true only for some species.

Third, fitness. The temperature was in the mid 80’s when I was walking around. A guy ran (I use that term loosely – it was a kind of fast shuffle) with his dog. They guy was wearing a heavy fleece sweater! Then I saw the next guy. Well, his silhouette really, it was getting dark, and he was back lit. He had a narrow waist and broad shoulders, and was running at a pretty good clip. And, it appeared as though he was wearing body armor. Not Under Armour, mind you, but body armor. As he got closer, it all made sense. No, no, it didn’t really. He was actually wearing a heavily weighted vest, with heavy objects in each of ten cylindrical pockets. I’m kind of glad he didn’t run into me. It would have been like getting hit by a Mack truck.

Fourth, I bought a hot dog from a food cart. They do place those in convenient locations, I must say. I had gotten a hankering for one about 5 minutes into my walk, but despaired because the neighborhood around here is pretty residential. However, there were some athletic fields on the other side of the reservoir and someone willing to sell me a hot dog. With everything? YES. Both feet. Full throttle. I don’t even know what was on it. It was dark. It tasted good, though.

There was more that happened, of course. There always is. But I must away ere break of day.

So, eventually, I made it home and ate my Drumm cheese paired with fresh Rainier cherries. Yum.


W0D4 “Start where you are.”

Vaguebooking: An [intentionally] vague Facebook status update that inevitably prompts friends to ask what’s going on. As in:

Mark is: “thinking that was a bad idea”

(An aside again: You really should click on that “Mark” link, especially if you have a friend named Mark.)

Yesterday, I vaguely alluded to the fact that I might have something unpleasant to deal with today.

…I think I might have a tricky day ahead of me tomorrow, based on an email I received moments ago.

I received an email indicating that there was some tension brewing in one of my teaching teams. It seemed both people had the best interests of the girls at heart, but different priorities. One emailed me and asked me to weigh in and define the roles of instructor and TA in a meeting we are having on Friday. Ugh. I became mildly nauseated – there’s a part of my mind that just wants everything to go smoothly so I don’t have to deal with this. But that’s not why GWC hired me. My feeling comes from a time when I didn’t have good tools for these types of situations. I think I’m getting better at it now.

First instinct, don’t deal with it by email – too fraught with the peril of misunderstanding. Still, I needed to respond.

First, thank you for reaching out so quickly. I know that’s not an easy thing to do.

Your instincts are right that this is very important to address sooner rather than later.

I also know that this is the kind of thing that might keep you up at night, so I wanted to respond right away. We need you well rested 🙂

We agreed to meet this morning for coffee. I’m thinking,“Good call, Ochterski – you just bought yourself some time.” I knew what I wanted to do, but on the way downtown this morning, I looked at some conflict resolution web sites just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.

Before today, I had only met her once, in a meeting with the corporate host for her classroom. One of the things that struck me was when she asked the host, “Is there a place we can take the girls outside to unwind?” Ah! Someone who gets it and can see the needs the girls will have even before meeting them. Good teacher instincts. The force is strong in this one.

My basic plan for this morning was this: 1) ask a question, 2) listen 3) validate 4) then do it again 5) maybe, just maybe, offer a “what if”.

The first question (after “Hello”) is always “How are you feeling today (or right now)?” Yoga sutra 1.1: “Atha Yoga anushasanam”. My Sanskrit is a little rusty these days, and every site translates this a little differently (“Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of yoga begins.” or “Then comes the right time to undertake the practice of yoga.“) A translation I’ve heard and particularly like is “Start where you are.” First, of course, you need to know where you are, hence this question. It is also a way of communicating “I know you are going through something, and it’s OK to talk about it”.

It opened the flood doors a little bit, and she started telling me a lot about what had been going on. We hadn’t actually gotten into the coffee shop yet. This was fortuitous, as was my poor choice of a coffee shop. Wait, what? It is so easy to find good coffee shops these days – “OK Google, coffee shop near 9th Avenue and 34th Street” Red Eye Coffee – 4.8 stars on Google, 4.5 on Yelp. Boom. Done. However, if you don’t actually READ about the place, you wouldn’t know that there is no seating there. I bought both drinks (If you feed them, they will follow you. Best advice ever.) The transaction in the shop interrupted our conversation long enough that I could back up a bit. After all, we hardly knew each other.

We walked toward the host site, which was about 15 minutes away, looking for a place to sit and talk. It was a pleasant, if breezy, morning, and we found a plaza with tables, chairs and shade after about a block and a half. Along the way, I tried to get to know her – Where are you living this summer? (She is from the West Coast and is still trying to understand New York weather), How did you you get involved in GWC? and so forth. I learned a lot about her teaching background, philosophy, and goals. Just listen – no need to make conversation here.

Over the next hour, we teased apart the situation. I did my best to listen, then repeat back what she had said, changing the words, but still capturing what she said. “Let me tell you how I understood what you said, and let me know if if I have it right, and correct me if I’m wrong.” When I did this, I tried to reframe what she said, to help look at it from another perspective. “A sense of superiority” (she didn’t want to use that word, but no other one came to mind) became “maybe their confidence in their technical skills makes them want their opinions to carry more weight”.

What I got was that there were two experts in the room – one in tech, one in teaching, and they probably had different ideas about how the class should look and feel and what should be taught. I said that it sounded like she was looking for a way to get both people what they want, and not have an antagonistic, win-lose situation around every disagreement. She agreed. As I said, the force is strong in this one. GWC knows what they are doing when they hire people. I try to remember this when I lose my confidence.

Fortunately, GWC gave us a tool which may have saved the day. They called it “the decision making framework”. It is new this year. It is a three point checklist for making decisions:

  1. Advocate for all students
  2. Make your thinking visible
  3. Build more than code

That’s brilliant stuff right there, and the solution to the problem. It gives both people a common goal to work toward – something they both have to subordinate their opinions to. It gives them a way out, and a way to resolve conflicts – which idea is closer to the framework?

We also came up with some ideas about how to rebuild the teaching team after the difficult day yesterday – use the same tools we use with the girls. With them, we have them write a classroom contract, so what if they tested that activity plan by making a teaching team contract? With the girls, we practice affirmation bonding activities. State what strengths you see in the other person. OK, what if the teaching team practices that? Fortunately, the tech person is also a big proponent of bonding, so it should go OK.

All the teaching staff I talked to remember hearing about the decision making framework, and remember the first point, almost. Advocate for all (girls?students?people?). Almost no one can remember the rest. I’ve tried, and I have the gist of each, but I still get messed up on the specific wording. I have the same difficulty with lyrics in songs – it is one of the ways my brain has changed since I was younger – I get the gist better, but the specifics less so.

So, my plan is this: tomorrow morning, with the help of Staples ( which is 187 stairs and half a mile and from here (close to the 231st Street station), and has more stuff than my local Staples in CT), I am going to make a laminated card for each teaching team (I checked, they can print and laminate my document). That was easy.

Post script: I just received an answer to my check in email. Things went better today, but there is still some tension.

Everybody knows Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team formation, right? (Form, storm, norm, perform). Start where you are.

W0D3 Never shop when you are hungry.

It was a quiet day here in Fort Independence. I didn’t have any face to face meetings, so I could work from home. I spent a lot of time getting things into my online calendar and contacts so I can reference them wherever I am. I could be at any one of seven sites any day, or even on a field trip, so creating ready access to all my information is a good use of time (I think – I’ve never done this before. Didn’t someone once say something about the best laid plans?)

I took a break this morning to run some errands and walked down to Broadway by a different, slightly longer, route than usual, one that ends up near the 231st Street train station (the 238th street staion is about 10 minutes closer). I grabbed some lunch at a local deli, musing about the fact that I have only eaten at restaurants or take out so far, and that this is not a sustainable practice. First, it’s rather expensive. Second, I have to climb down those stairs and back up again.

I am going to indulge myself with a bit more grousing about the stairs. I am getting better at them, first off. Secondly, I can hear my mom say “Oh, Joseph (only about three people in the world call me that: my mom, my wife, and my sister), get over it.” I need to inform my dear readers that, according to Shah, who lives on the first floor of my building and whom I met yesterday (I’m pretty sure I got that who/whom right), there are 108 steps from the bottom of the hill to the sidewalk landing of our apartment. I have since verified his findings. Fortunately for him, he lives on the first floor, and needs to climb only the additional 5 steps to the building door, and two more to his apartment door. I, on the other hand, live on the 4th floor, and have an additional 4*18 steps to climb to get here, for a grand total 187 steps. If we assume a standard 7 inch riser (Everyone knows that right? No? Then thanks, Dad!), a little quick math reveals that is about 109.083333333 feet. If you grant me the extra foot for the rise in the road between the staircases, that’s 11 stories. Each way.(Down is slightly more difficult for me.) See where I’m coming from? If you need a point of reference, the tallest building in Middletown, CT is River’s Edge II at 13 stories.

That being that, I decided to lay in some food for the hard times, like, you know, if the temperature goes above 80, or it rains, or something weird like that. I was faced with a choice: on the right, we have good old Stop and Shop #0503, on the left, we have a sketchy looking store with lots of fruit outside at ridiculously low prices (compared to CT). Here’s a street view:

5663 U.S. 9   Google Maps.png

(Editor’s note: this picture was taken January four years ago.)

How to tell a sketchy store:

  1. The fruit is outside (who’s moving all that fruit around every day?)
  2. There is a lot of fruit, at very low prices
  3. It is hard to find the front door
  4. You can’t see inside the store
  5. The front door is very narrow
  6. The exit door is not visible, but is not the same as the front door
  7. The price signs are hand written and look like the’ve been around for a while
  8. When you look into the front door, the aisles are very crowded with stuff
  9. It looks like a bazaar

So, what to do? Obviously, grow up, go in the narrow door and look around. You can always leave without buying something. Truth be told, my real fear is a language barrier – it goes back to a travel incident right after college, maybe someday I’ll tell you about it, but it’s after 11pm now, and I think I might have a tricky day ahead of me tomorrow, based on an email I received moments ago. (That is foreshadowing of a story I may not be able to tell).

So, I went in. And I’m so glad I did! The place is called Garden Gourmet Market (OK, that could be a sketchy name). The aisles are kind of narrow, but there is a lot of stuff. This place makes Stop and Shop (and even the bougie Big Y in Northampton, Mass) look like off-brand gas station convenience stores. So much variety. It is like Whole Foods, but not as pretentious.

I bought a bag of lettuce, some cherries, salad dressing (Annie’s Sesame Ginger) and some chocolate bars (which are calling my name now, in spite of what happened before and I’ll tell you about later) and headed home, trying to see if I could spit cherry pits between the construction wall and the safety roof over head at our local massive, multiple, jackhammering, construction site. I can’t. I am pretty good (though not perfect) at avoiding the ricocheting pit, however. (An aside: magniloquent is a highfalutin word. It’s dark in there people. You never know what’s going to come out next. The inside of my brain is like a reality show with lots of unstable people (and maybe some unstable (and unstabled) animals) in it. )

OK, back to the story. I’ve been meaning to get to a yoga studio since I got here. I chose one (based mostly on proximity, but also on their website AND the fact that they provide mats, so I don’t have to buy (or lug – see W0D0) one. Also, they have many styles of yoga, which is my style of yoga.

It’s about a 20 minute walk away. Tonight they had Astanga yoga, which I hadn’t practiced in a while – maybe a year and a half. It is a strenuous type of practice, but I usually feel better afterwards. Usually. I gotta say, I enjoyed the class, but came out a bit sore – definitely feeling the hip openers. I don’t want to wake up in this body tomorrow, but I didn’t have room to bring my spare. Actually, the walk home helped equilibrate everything.

On the way, I stopped back into the Garden Gourmet. Hungry. See, you were wondering when I was going to get to the point. Here I am. I left with baked ziti with grilled chicken (very good – the grilled chicken tasted like it had been over fire), granola, milk, salad topper stuff, and this thing, which I was not sure what it was at the time, but seemed to have raspberries and the definite possibility of chocolate.


You see, I took a picture of it because I knew that Google Goggles would notice the bar code and send me a link to the right web page: https://webshop.ppkbjelovar.com/products/cokoladakakaokrem_namazi-205?Artikli_page=8

I’ll let you translate it out of Croatian. It is gone now. Plus some more.

You know the moral of the story.

W0D2 The best laid plans…

The plan: go to work, come home (Bronx home), try a new yoga studio at 6:30pm, come home again and fall asleep.

That did not happen. It was an overly optimistic plan anyway.

I’ve told a bunch of people, but not everybody, what it is I am doing here this summer. Last summer, in Chicago, I was an instructor in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program: one classroom, nineteen girls, two teaching assistants, seven hours a day, five days a week for seven weeks. Basically. This year, in New York, I’m one level up – a site lead. It’s sort of like being a cruise director. It’s my job to make sure everyone has a great time.

This is how I anticipate spending my summer. We’ll see later what actually happens.

A large portion of my time, I’ll be in one of my seven classrooms (ATT, Accenture, BlackRock Financial, Pfizer (2 classes), Synchrony Financial, and Viacom) getting a feel for the atmosphere, keeping an eye out for anything that might prevent someone from having the Best Summer Ever. That “someone” includes all the teaching staff and the many (often 40 or more) people who help us from those partner companies (who make as tremendous financial commitment as well). I also get to go on field trips (there are some really cool ones – I have to get them in my calendar so I don’t miss the best. I’ll talk about them as they happen. Since many of you are current or erstwhile (or, perhaps, ersatz) Bellringers, I’ll let slip that one of the trips will include someone on the trip (not me) ringing a bell at the end of the day. It’s a cool trip, to somewhere you’ve definitely heard of.

In addition to classroom observations, I check in weekly with each teaching team after the girls have left. Hmm, now that I think about it, that is going to be a trick – six sites, but only five days in a week. Clearly, the only possible solution to this dilemma is to find the site that caters the best lunch, and meet with the teaching staff while the girls eat and meet with their mentors. Lunch is included in the SIP for the girls (and teaching staff). This is is not just a perk, but actually is an important part of the program which was not in place in the early years. The students are chosen to represent a wide array of social, cultural, racial and economic backgrounds. If lunch isn’t provided, some girls will simply have nothing to eat (“Oh, I’m just not hungry today.”), while others will have fancy lunches. So lunch is provided including adjustments for food allergies and religious requirements. Lunch is the great equalizer. As I’ve said before, this is a quality program.

The check ins include addressing whatever concerns the teaching staff have, making sure they are working well together, offering suggestions about how to address things I’ve noticed in the classroom, talking through plans for upcoming activities, and the like.

The first part of each day for me will be checking attendance from each classroom and contacting parents if a student is unexpectedly absent. The girls are allowed only two absences all summer- this is to ensure that the partner companies are reaching as many girls as possible with the resources they provide. Bang for the buck.

We (the site leads) also act as filters to determine which things need to be escalated into the GWC organization. Many students come from difficult circumstances at home, and GWC provides resources to support them. We (all the staff) are mandated reporters as well, so we immediately report and escalate any signs of abuse.

I’ll also be checking in with our contacts and support people at the host companies to make sure everything is going smoothly from their point of view. Having twenty teenagers spend all day in your workplace for many weeks can be both fun and, um, disruptive. For the most part, the host companies really enjoy having the energy and excitement the girls bring. They also need to get work done.

Having said all that, I had Week 0 meetings with two classes today. (It is called Week 0, because it it the week before Week 1 for the girls. It is a week of preparation for the host site and the teaching teams. The W0D2 refers to Week 0 Day 2, if you are keeping track.) Both meetings went well. At all three companies I’ve visited so far this week, the people we are working with are simply top-notch. They are excited, driven, and so very capable. We are all on the same page about making this the Best Summer Ever. Some have even asked me to spy on other companies to make sure their activities are up to snuff.

My second visit was to Synchrony Financial which is located in Stamford. It will henceforth be known as “Tattoine” because of it’s location in the Outer Rim. Under normal circumstances, it’s takes an hour to get from Grand Central to Stamford, if you are lucky enough to catch the express. Today, though, was a tough one for the MTA. This didn’t seem to have an effect on Metro North, but the train stopped in Pelham while its computer reset. I took a cab from the train station to Synchrony. ($20. I pay my own transportation costs to Stamford, but GWC compensates me by paying me while I travel there. ) I ended up being 9 minutes late to the meeting (I had planned to arrive 20 minutes early, but the computer glitch ate that up.) Those 9 minutes became 39 because the receptionist, though she truly tried valiantly, couldn’t locate the meeting (mostly because they had walked over to the security office to get badges). Eventually, we met up and I got caught up.

As it turns out, now that I have a badge, I will be able to take the free Synchrony shuttle from the train station to the campus (yay!). In fact, I took it on the way back. While I rode, I checked Google maps to see if there was a way to avoid going all the way downtown, just to ride all the way back uptown again. Then a magical thing happened! Google suggested that I get off at Fordham and take the Bx9 bus and poof, I’m at my morning train stop in an hour and a half! This is great because if I go downtown, that ‘s two hours plus 20 minutes of walking plus waiting for the connection – each way.

The upshot is, if I can catch the 4:45 in Stamford, I’ll be home by 6:15! Sadly, the shuttle dropped us off at 4:42, and I didn’t run fast enough to catch the train. The next one that stopped at Fordham was at 5:32, and it was an express, so I decided to wait. This is why I always bring food with me (two bananas and a granola bar today). Then this happened ( a 30 minute delay – why aren’t you following the links? You should be following the links. At least mouse over them before you ignore them.) The tweet belies the true mess that was happening. The 5:32 ended up cancelled, and the 5:35 local took over – 15 minutes late. At 5:50 I climbed aboard and found a seat – good thing too. At every stop more and more people crowded on until it was SRO, and barely any of that. Here is a picture out the window, where it was rather pleasant.

I got off the train at 6:50pm and asked Google directions home, and got a surprise! With a nine minute walk (6 blocks) I could get dropped off by a bus (Bx2) near my front door! I serendipitously requested directions home instead of to my morning train stop, and consequently got a ride up the hill instead of having to walk. The 6 blocks weren’t too bad – it was along East Fordham Road (in the opposite direction of the university) . It is a very well populated, heavy retail strip – I passed 3 ice cream trucks (as well as everything from The Gap to stores that sold surprisingly skimpy outfits – that one looks like a couple of strings of beads to me), plenty of street vendors, too. I missed the Bx2 bus by 15 seconds, so I had to wait another 10 minutes for the next one. I finally made it home around 7:40pm. That was a long day.

W0D1 Not having enough chutzpah, I run into a glitch and end up with bubkes.

After work today, I went for a walk to explore some more of the neighborhood around me. First though, a side trip.

I was looking around in Google Maps (map) when I saw a reference to a place called FrankenStuffs, so I have to look it up right? I love these things! (pictures!) I’m sad that most are sold 😦

I stopped first in our courtyard, having noticed, yesterday, a dedication sign. It is dedicated to Sholem Aleichem. Who is that you ask? None other than the “Yiddish Mark Twain”.

When they first met in real life, as the story goes, at a Manhattan hotel in 1906, Aleichem was introduced as “the Yiddish Mark Twain.” Upon hearing this, Twain halted the speaker: “Please tell him that I am the American Sholem Aleichem.”

( “When Sholem Aleichem Met Mark Twain | Jewniverse.” 10 Jan. 2014, http://thejewniverse.com/2014/when-sholem-aleichem-met-mark-twain/. Accessed 26 Jun. 2017.)

In fact, these buildings (including the one I am living in now) are known as the Shalom Aleichem Houses, and were originally created as a housing complex for residents with an interest in and concern for the preservation of secular Yiddish culture. Who knew? Turns out, you did. At least you are probably familiar with one of his stories. What comes to your mind first when you think of Yiddish stories? Think about it for a half a minute. Undoubtedly, you thought of Fishke the Lame, and who could blame you? Second only to that is Tevye the Dairyman, which is the basis of some musical no one has ever heard of called Fiddler on the Roof (no reference).

Anyways, there’s this nice plaque in the courtyard, which I didn’t take a picture of. I did take some nice pictures of the courtyard, though.

20170626_182843.jpg    20170626_182814.jpg

Almost ethereal, right? I did nothing to those pictures except increase the color saturation.

This was supposed to be a photo tour, but some kind of schmutz got on my lens. I’ll try again another day.


Never pack anything you aren’t willing to carry a mile.

I have one rule when I travel: “Never pack anything you aren’t willing to carry a mile.” It’s probably even more important than “Don’t drink the water.” Aside from road trips, that first rule has held me in good stead, and today was no exception.

My family vacations growing up ALWAYS included some long trek –  it was part of the experience. I won’t bore you with the details of those fond memories. Instead will bore you with the details of my first international trip without my family which was to the City of Light (or Lights, apparently both are equally unenlightened (that was a French to English mistranslation joke – you have to do some research to get it, or speak French – I fall in the first category)).

So, we (a group of about 13 college students and 3 chaperones – the college (not my alma mater) sponsoring the trip required(!?!) chaperones – it’s true) landed in Paris on New Year’s Eve, 1987. Even in those days, the airport was rife with soldiers bearing assault rifles riffling through the crowds. (I had rife and rifle in there and had to do something to make it look more intentional. I think it still makes sense, and may even be poetic, if I dare. Google doesn’t like the way it’s spelled the third time. You, on the other hand, will either have to trust me or look it up yourself. It is still pronounced like rifling. That is not a typo.)

We retrieved our luggage and headed out the front door to find transportation to our hostel. Having ascertained from a map that there was no good public transit option, and having a group too large and too unknowledgeable in French (only one of us, me, spoke even alting French – a fact which led to some interesting and most memorable tribulations later that evening) to take cabs, and noticing that the hostel was only one and a quarter miles away, we decided to hoof it.

Now, you need to know that one member of our group, whose name I don’t recall, brought along a rather large suitcase. Well, calling it a suitcase is a bit of an understatement. It was more of a hutch on wheels. Small wheels. And it was PACKED. She had a lot of clothes in there. Who could need so many clothes we wondered, half jokingly, half outloud. Whatever. To each their own.

When faced with the trek, the member in question said that she could roll her portmanteau (emphasis on “tow”). Everything started out well, at least for the first block, and even much of the second. The first block had sidewalks. On the second block, the buildings came right to the edge of the street, so we moved there, and merrily we rolled along. And then, with a tip of the hat to Simon and Garfunkel, we reached the narrow streets of cobblestone, and with it the inability to roll any further.

We pause here to take in the beauty of Paris. It is an incredible city (right Cris?). If you go, I very highly recommend waking up really early (4 or 5 am), walking outside, and inhaling the scent of the baking baguettes. It is the City of Light, but could equally well hold the title City of Aromas. I still get weak knees reminiscing on the perfumes French women wear, even on the subway. A pause within a pause here, while I steady my knees.

I think I’m OK now. As it turned out, our fellow traveller did not have sufficient upper body strength to heave her refrigerator truck-sized luggage (emphasis on “lug” – did you know that luggage originally denoted, in the 16th century – about the time these roads were built,  inconveniently heavy baggage? Prophetic, I’d say.) over the cobblestones. Fortunately, the particular college in question had a knack for producing  gentlemen, in the classic sense, so about six of us took turns lugging (which is a word of Scandinavian origin) the thing the rest of the way.

About three days later (long enough for our muscles to recover), we found out that there were indeed items in addition to clothing in there. The one that sticks in my mind was the steam hairsetter. Walmart still sells these things: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Babyliss-Pro-Nano-Titanium-12-Roller-Hair-Setter-BABNTCHV15/787436477

How, you ask, did we find out that that was in there? By the vociferous complaints which emanated when it didn’t work on European voltage, even with a converter. C’est la vie.

So, what am I willing to carry a mile? A sense of privacy prevents me from listing the entire manifest, but I had Alice’s rolling suitcase (which I may now have to replace – that’s foreshadowing right there), a duffel bag, a backpack and Ellie (my bike from Chicago – that girl gets around. Some of you will remember that she is sturdy and comfortable, and at 45 pounds, shall we say, not as portable as those ultra-lights). The first time I tried to move all four simultaneously was getting them from the car to the train platform in Guilford. I need to apologize to Jean here for being somewhat short of temper when she offered to help during that transition. As it turned out, that 50 yard transfer was a good warm up for the rest of the trip.

Ellie had to face the indignity of riding face-up resting only on her back wheel. Fortunately, that was a short leg of the trip – only about 24 minutes. I waited until everyone else had alighted from the train in New Haven before I attempted to drag my luggage (I use that term advisedly, now) down the aisle and rescue Ellie. I heaved the luggage out the door and jumped back in to free her from her predicament. We crossed the platform to the Metro North train headed for Grand Central. There were seats that folded up, so Ellie was able to ride in comfort as we headed to NYC.

On the trip I met Mona, who was just the sweetest thing. She looked like a shepherd cross, and was maybe six or seven months old. She rode the train (her first time) like a champ.

As we crossed into New York State, I took the opportunity to check my connection to the Number 1 train to the Bronx. I was kind of dreading the end of that ride at 238th Street, since it meant bringing all four items DOWN from an elevated platform – by stairs – no elevator, followed by a four block walk to the self storage unit where Ellie is staying (my AirBnB is a fourth floor pre-war walk-up , so she can’t stay here).

I probably should’ve paid more attention when Google suggested taking Amtrak into the city rather than Metro North. You see, the Number 1 train leaves from Penn Station were Amtrak ends up. I was headed to Grand Central – a twelve minute walk away (without three pieces of luggage and a bike and no skills moving them all at the same time). In my defense, everybody says to avoid Penn if you can. Besides, I like Grand Central.

I played around with Google Maps looking for an alternate route. Finally, I found one with less walking – and it saved time, because I could switch trains at Harlem-125th, and not go all the way to midtown just to turn around and ride back. Plus, Harlem-125th has an elevator. And apparently a festival – I’m pretty sure it was the Pride March (insert rainbow flag).

I managed to get my stuff into the elevator, and down to the ground floor, where tickets are sold.I got a ticket on the Hudson-Croton line to Marble Hill. Track 2. Back up the elevator. I should say that each time I moved my stuff I got a little better at it – learning to switch sides optimally, and so on.

During the bumpy (the train lurched all over, so I had to stand holding Ellie up) 22 minute ride (which passed right by Yankee Stadium) I realized I had to go to the bathroom, but none was in sight. I got off on the narrow platform at Marble Hill (New Yorkers are nice – someone helped me with my heaviest bag). I paused there to assess the situation. I had to get to the Number 1 train for a few more stops. I checked the directions to the train stop, and started to get off the platform.

If you’ve been to that stop, you realize the problem here. It is in no way handicapped (or bike) accessible. You have to climb four full flights of stairs to get out. I needed a better way to move my stuff. I hit upon the idea of using the telescoping handle of the suitcase to act as a perch for the duffel. Then I could but the bike up two stairs with one hand, let it rest, then pull the luggage up two stairs. Bike, rest, luggage, rest. Bike, rest, luggage, rest. Bike, rest, luggage, rest.

I got to the top and found the entrance to the Number 1 train … and decided not to take it. It was another climb for only two stops, and then a climb back down. Google said only a twenty minute walk to the storage place, and that seemed like a deal to me. Plus, I got a chance to know what’s around. Originally I though only chain restaurants, but there’s plenty of independent ones as well. Alice’s suitcase may have suffered some damage from being dragged up stairs and over curbs.


I got Ellie squared away in her spa (she has a private mini garage, 4 feet tall), and began the trip to my AirBnb. My hostess suggested taking a cab from 231st street (there’s a cab stand there), but I was already at 235th, so I decided (once again) to hoof it, laden with the final three bags.


The walk start off with a slight uphill, but after about four blocks, the hill gets pretty steep. The pizza delivery guys from the place I later ate dinner all have motorized bicycles. Then you cross the street, and there is a set of stairs to climb. Five sets of 13 steps each. I paused on each landing – this was getting exhausting. At the top of the stairs, just off to the right, there were five teen-aged couples learning salsa dancing together – the closest thing to an adult was a kid who looked to be college aged. This is a nice neighborhood.

Finally, I arrived at the apartment. I will admit to taking a break and waiting an extra long time before ringing the buzzer a second time – four more flights of stairs to go with the luggage. Finally, I settled in, got my stuff unpacked, when my phone rang. It was the guy from the self-storage unit – I left my credit card there. Off I go, back down the hill to retrieve it.

If nothing else, my legs will be in hill shape by the time this summer ends. And then, you won’t have to listen to me complain about it any more.